On Wednesday, the State Environmental Protection Administration
(SEPA) issued a
statement by Vice Minister Pan Yue saying that all 30 of the
environmentally unapproved projects it had publicized on January 18
have now ceased construction.
The projects, involving billions of US dollars in 13 provinces
and municipalities, were accused of starting work before their
environmental impact assessment reports were approved by
authorities, contravening laws in place since September 2003.
On January 24, the SEPA announced that work on 22 had frozen,
but that eight had still not complied.
These included the biggest project on the administration's
original list: the Xiluodu Hydropower Plant, which is on the upper
reaches of the Yangtze River and involves investment of over 44
billion yuan (US$5.3 billion).
It was one of three hydropower plants run by the China Three
Gorges Project Corporation that did not respond to the
environmental regulator's initial call to halt operations.
Pan said that the eight are now awaiting approval of their
Shu Jianmin, director of the Chinese Academy of Environmental
Sciences' environmental impact assessment center, said the move
showed a strengthening in law enforcement. It is not that the
companies do not have an awareness of environmental protection, Shu
said, but a question of compliance.
Liao Xiaoyi, president of the non-governmental organization
(NGO) Global Village of Beijing, said she was "delighted" at
hearing the news.
"The storm has taken effect at last," she said, adding that she
had doubted whether all 30 projects could be stopped because they
are large ventures.
Liao said that public participation in environmental impact
assessment should be reinforced, too.
Last Thursday, the SEPA also blacklisted 46 coal-fired power
plants, ordering them to install desulfurization equipment as
previously agreed and warning legal action should they fail to do
China's air and water quality remains amongst the worst in the
world. The crackdown has been initiated as central government tries
to rein in growth and curb investment, especially in the power
sector, for sustainable economic growth.
The SEPA and National Development and Reform Commission have
also issued a joint notice on environmental protection during the
building of hydropower plants.
It was welcomed as a big step forward by Wang Yongchen, founder
of the Beijing-based NGO Green Earth Volunteers, who stressed the
importance of written policies being put into practice.
She said it was good to see development and reform authorities
recognizing that economic development needs to be balanced with
environmental concerns for sustainability.
(China Daily February 3, 2005)